After the success of projects like Gavi Trip and Coracle rides at Adavi, the district administration has embarked on a new project - Explore Pathanamthitta. This will, the authorities hope, put Pathanamthitta on the tourism map. The district administration and the Forest Department will combine their resources to facilitate tourism. Let us start with an account of a trip through the forests of Pathanamthitta.
People from Pathanamthitta have travelled far and wide, but how often do you think of this district as a tourism hotspot? Not often. So, if someone is asking you 'is there so much to see out there?' The answer is yes, there is. Pathanamthitta is not merely the residential pockets you see as you drive past. The eastern mountain ranges of Pathanamthitta are home perhaps to Kerala's densest forest sector.
How about an adventure trip into the interior of this forest? The forest department and district administration are paving the way for those who are interested in it. The journey begins from the Konni elephant krawl. Before entering the forest an elementary lesson is to know what the wild is all about. The trip is from Eliyarackal on the Punalur-Muvatupuzha highway towards Kallely route and heading for the teak depot. It goes past Kattathipara. Kattathipara is where the adventure trip begins for those interested to enjoy the forest without disturbing it.
Beneath the rock are honeycombs laden with honey. Those are not for you though. The claimants are the forest dwellers. You go past Kathathipara. The area which was once a thick forest is now full of residential centres. Wild animals occasionally make an appearance here as if to remind that the place once used to be theirs. They retrace to the forest after creating some menace by ruining crops and attacking goats. It is time for us too to enter the forest where these wild animals hide. The forest begins soon after Kottampara tribal colony.
The real adventure of the trip starts at this point. An old forest path has been spruced up. This path lay unused for 15 years. The four wheel drive jeep of the forest rangers traverse it. It is tough to calculate the kilometers in a forest. At least an hour of jeep ride takes you to Kurichi Siva temple. Do not expect much hearing the word 'temple'. Just the relics, that is all. A pretty vast meadow sprawls outside. The festival is during Sivarathri. People arrive from outside. The place will be deserted once the festival is over.
A steep descent begins from the temple courtyard. You can see elephant dung on the way as you walk down. An elephant has surely come this way. Bamboo forests are seen all around, - evidence that elephants find harbor here. Frankincense trees spread their fragrance all about the place. The path ends in a pond. The climb up the bank is arduous. Again back to the Siva temple yard and from there back to the interior forest. At a spot nearby, they say elephants gather in herds. Foresters call it elephant market. On the path ahead one can sense wild brooks in the valley by their sounds. Tiny waterfalls mark some places.
Finally we arrive at Randatummoozhi. The beauty of Kallar is best experienced here. Trekking a little further in the soil marked by bison's footmarks, you are greeted by the foaming waters of Kallar. Rest a little here and if you feel like it, take a bath in the brook. This is where a dam was once planned for the Twin Kallar project. Proof of the primary steps taken for this can be seen here in the form of a bund. Vallom lagoon and Azhaku rock are nearby.It will take you more than a couple of hours to drink in the beauty of the place.
But we slog on, we are now in the interior forest. The descent begins next. The journey is still through the forest path. There is plenty of distance to be covered. In between the forest has shed leaves a little. A few buildings can be sighted somewhere in the horizon. The driver informs us that it is Thekkumthod.
Turn the bend and you find yourself going back to the forest. The nature of the forest gradually changes. We are about to leave the forest sector. The jeep crosses the brook in a wink. It comes to a halt only after reaching Mundommoozhi forest station. A hundred metres ahead and you can enjoy a ride in a coracle in Adavi. Manneera waterfalls are nearby. It is easy to reach.
For those who love adventure, it is a trip to remember. Do not complain if you do not see wild animals during the trip. Their presence is there everywhere, and you can sense them.
The district administration is keen to identify and develop the tourism potential of Pathanamthitta district. The participation of forest department is inevitable. With District Collector S. Harikishore and DFO T. Pradeep Kumar joining hands, much progress has been made. A notable move was converting the old elephant cage in Konni as an ecotourism centre.
Ecotourism centre has become active with the support of Minister Adoor Prakash. Elephant feeding and elephant rides add to the joy of the tourists. The facility is crowded most days. Coracle ride in Adavi is great attraction. Experts had flown in from Hoganekal which is famous for this type of water vehicle. They trained the paddlers here. The project was an instant hit. Adavi has now become a place to visit with family for a memorable day. It is just 12 kilometers away from Konni.
Many people in the neighboring districts are also interested in enjoying the beauty of Gavi. The project undertaken with DTPC participation to arrange special tours for such people also became a hit. Nearly a thousand people have used this facility within three months.
The Explore Pathanamthitta project was formulated on the basis of the successes of these projects. The exquisite promo video featuring the beauty of Konni's forest sector, coracle ride and elephant ride made even Pathanamthitta residents wonder if their hometown is indeed that splendorous. Yes, it is! But one needs to open one's eyes wide to savor it. Arrangements are afoot to enable travel from Kottampara to Manneera for projecting Pathanamthitta as a potential destination for lovers of adventure tourism. However there are many things you have to be cautious about.
Forest department took the initiative to start ecotourism projects in Kerala to provide an opportunity to those who want to explore the forest sector. The project is successfully going on in Thenmala and other places. Thenmala became a tourism centre that can be covered in a day as far as people in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta are concerned. However entry to the interior forests in Thenmala is restricted. Be it Muthanga or Tholpetti in Wayanad there is a limitation to the places that travelers have access to.
Doubts are raised if it is a wise idea to open out the interior forests for tourism. Forest department had to impose some restrictions in the wake of the bitter experience of tourists uncontrollably encroaching in Gavi. The forest sector in Konni is as important as in Gavi. The jeep route through this forest was lying unused for the last 15 years. Jeeps plying daily through this route are bound to prove disastrous for the forest sector.
The project might prove successful if we set aside the idea of tourism and instead open this sector only to those who are really interested in learning about the forest. Even then the accessible bounds of interior forest will have to be defined. It is better to arrange the travel such that jeep goes up to Kottampara and the remainder of the trip is done on foot.
Camping can be done in the spot near Kurichi temple. Trip can be planned to start from here the next day for Manneera. Vehicle entry inside can be avoided as much as possible. This area is home to the wild, studies need to be undertaken about how man and animal could co-exist without harm to other. At present trekking is allowed in places like Thekkady to only a limited area, that too when accompanied by experienced guides. Only after studying the methods adopted there and incorporating changes suiting our forest sector here can the project succeed.